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Panic Room

Reviewed By DrChumley
Posted 05/16/02 06:00:38

"A pretty good idea, but very poorly executed"
3 stars (Average)

What do you do with a thriller that isn't thrilling? A drama that isn't dramatic? This film tried. It wanted so badly to be a great film. It just failed miserably.

Jodie Foster has always been one of my favorite actors. I like nearly every movie in which I have seen her…with the notable exception of Nell (“Tays inna win’!”) I have been especially impressed with her skill behind the camera in her quietly intense work Little Man Tate, and her pull-your-hair-out holiday-gone-horribly-wrong film, Home for the Holidays. Foster has established herself as a powerhouse in the entertainment industry—one with a seemingly innate sense of quality in art. After seeing her most recent offering however, I must as a simple question: “What the HELL were you thinking, Jodie?”

Foster plays Meg Altman, a recently divorced mother of a daughter with a serious illness, played with a wooden monotone by Kristen Stewart (whose asexual haircut and clothing makes her look suspiciously like Macaulay Culkin on a bender.) Meg and Kristen have recently purchased a large home in Manhattan to be close to Meg’s ex-husband (Patrick Bauchau). The large “townstone” (not quite a townhouse, not quite a brownstone) is a creepy, barren, cavernous, high-ceilinged mini-mansion with four floors, an elevator, and, off the master bedroom, a concrete and steel room complete with security monitors, a phone line, and emergency rations—a panic room.

During Meg and Kristen’s first night in their new digs, the house is broken into by three largely inept criminals: the spoiled, druggie grandson of the house’s previous owner, Junior (Jared Leto), bus-driver turned hit man, Raoul (Dwight Yoakam), and big-hearted security system expert with an alimony problem, Burnham (Forest Whitaker.) They break into what they assume is an empty house to recover a hidden treasure left by Junior’s wealthy grandfather. Awakened by the less-than-stealthy approach of the would-be burglars, Meg wakes Kristen and they both retreat to the panic room. In an expected twist of fate, the very thing for which the criminals are looking happens to be hidden in the panic room itself. The criminals spend the remainder of the film trying to break into the indestructible panic room or devising ways to get Meg and Kristen out.

Penned by writer David Koepp (Jurassic Park, Mission Impossible), Panic Room suffers most from its horrendous script. With what promised to be a very inventive idea, Koepp resorts to many of the same worn-out thriller clichés we’ve been rolling our eyes at for years. With a few minor exceptions, Koepp’s script goes exactly where we want it to, and we can see it coming a mile off. Worst, perhaps, is Koepps ludicrous dialogue—some of which caused me to laugh out loud, resulting in some pretty nasty looks being thrown my direction. In one pseudo-tense moment, Raoul points a gun directly at Burnham and says, “When I do this, people don’t lie!”

Director David Fincher, best known for action/thrillers Se7en and Fight Club, also largely misses the mark with Panic Room. After one of the coolest opening credit sequences I’ve seen in a long time, I was expecting to be led along the story by Fincher’s trademark driving energy. However, rather than re-creating the giddy high-tension feeling of his previous endeavors, Fincher lays back and relies on the monotonous gray-blue palette of cinematographers Conrad W. Hall and Darius Khondji. The result is a somewhat bland, plodding thriller that largely fails to thrill.

The one thing that saves this film from becoming “bad movie night” fodder is the work of the leading actors. Foster does a wonderful job despite the lack of substance in the role. Leto, Yoakam, and Whitaker each draw every possible ounce of quality out of their laughable lines, and make most of them bearable, if not believable. Even the minor characters were impressive—with the notable exception of Ann Magnuson as the real estate agent. (She has officially been nominated into my “Character Who Most Needs to be Bitch Slapped” category—other nominees: Mariah Carey, Entire Cast of The Brady Bunch Movie)

Also of note is Howard Shore’s intense, monorhythmic score which manages to provide what little tension the film contains, while at the same time avoids drawing attention to itself. (Are you listening, Mr. Williams???)

Overall, Panic Room failed to live up to its name as a thriller. A pacing reminiscent of a John Deere tractor on a freeway, and script with dialogue that belongs in a Freddie Prinze, Jr. movie, turned what promised to be an exciting film into a mildly entertaining but mediocre and forgettable one.

It it worth the time: Not really. If you're bored, or have a girlfriend who is easily scared, go for it. Otherwise, save yourself $8 and watch Buffy on TV

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